Jean-Philippe, Julia and I left Mchinji for Lilongwe as soon as Julia finished packing her farm inputs into the vehicle. She had been disappointed with the fact that some the herbicides she bought were actually dangerous to human beings in the long term.
â€œSo, how should my workers handle the herbicides?â€
â€œThe best is not to use them at all,â€ I replied.
â€œBut if you choose to still apply them in your GM maize, let those mixing and spraying the herbicides wear gloves, industrial overalls and boots; cover their mouths with surgical masks and their eyes with welding glasses, â€ Jean-Philippe explained.
â€œThat will make farming very expensive. Can poor smallholder farmers afford all that?â€ Julia asked herself.
â€œFarming is not cheap. Your government needs to invest seriously in food production. Your scientists should appropriately inform government before adopting some technologies,â€ Jean-Phillipe said.
We passed through Juliaâ€™s farm before driving to Lilongwe. We went to our temporary home at Area 15.Â But, Jean-Philippe was rather uncomfortable. He asked me if I still had energy to drive away from the city to somewhere we could breathe real fresh air. I said I did. He then reminded me about his request for us to go to Lake Malawi for a swim.
I remembered. So, we drove to Bwandilo to buy fuel. The petrol attendant there told us that we were lucky to find some because all over Lilongwe, there was almost no filling station with petrol.
We started off sometime in the afternoon. Around 4pm. At Kanengo, we turned right and drove down towards Salima. Jean-Philippe was impressed with the undulating hills of Dowa. Apart from mango trees and hedgerows of vetiver grass, the rolling hills along the Lilongwe-Salima highway were virtually bare. Occasionally, Jean-Philippe stopped me to take a picture.
When we got to the Salima-Nkhotakota road junction, I turned left. Jean-Philippe asked me where exactly we were going because all he wanted was to swim in the lake.
â€œWe are going to the lake of stars.â€
â€œWhen did they advertise the gig?â€
â€œThe Lake of Stars is some sort of music festival, isnâ€™t it?â€
I explained to Jean-Philippe the difference between the lake of stars as synonym for Lake Malawiâ€™s most sparkling waters and the lake of stars as a music festival that was started by the management of Chintheche Inn before the Malawi Government hijacked and politicised it.
â€œWhat do you mean? How was it politicised?â€
I did not answer.
It was getting dark but we drove on. I did so slowly this time because unlike the Lilongwe-Mchinji highway, the Salima-Nkhata Bay road is a snare. It is probably the most potholed and uneven main road in Malawi. Some of the potholes appeared to have been caused by natural tear and wear, but others were actually manmade, literally. Someone had been contracted to patch up the road but must have abandoned the work. Even worse, most of the bridges are so narrow you would think they were meant for ox-carts.
â€œAre you sure we are still in Malawi?â€
I did not answer him. I concentrated on keeping the vehicle on the road until we got to a place near the Nkhotakota boma where a signpost announced: â€œWelcome to another Malawiâ€.